It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Nope, not the holidays. It’s time for Home Theater Review’s annual best-of list, where we highlight the best products we’ve reviewed in the past 12 months. Whether you’re looking for the pinnacle of high-end speaker design and construction or an entry-level speaker to begin your home theater journey, this year’s list has you covered. We also highlight the best TVs, projectors, AV preamps/receivers, media players, headphones, audiophile hi-fi components, and more. Our goal is not to select a single winner in each product category, but rather to offer variety of picks at a variety of price points. Ultimately, we want to help you put together a great system, regardless of budget. Our picks below are organized by price, from lowest to highest, and we’ve provided links to the original reviews if you want to learn more about each product.
Dish Network Hopper 3 Whole-home UHD DVR
Dish Network’s first 4K-friendly DVR is loaded with features that make it a great choice even for those who have yet to upgrade to a 4K display. It boasts 16 tuners, a 2TB hard drive, integrated apps like Netflix (the 4K version) and YouTube, a Sports Bar mode to view four HD channels at once, advanced search capabilities, and a faster and more intuitive interface than previous Hoppers. The Hopper 3 is available as a free upgrade for most Dish customers, but you will pay a monthly DVR fee of $15. All in all, Dish’s latest Hopper remains the gold standard for set-top boxes.
Amazon Fire TV 2nd Generation 4K Streaming Media Player, $99.99
Early this year, Amazon introduced the second-generation Fire TV, which retains the great voice-search capabilities and $99.99 price tag of the original but adds support for Alexa and 4K playback. For 4K fans, it’s not as thorough in its offerings or menu design as the Roku 4 that we put on last year’s list. However, it’s still a great player, and its Alexa support transforms it into a whole-house voice controller for all those control/automation platforms that have recently integrated Alexa support (like Control4, Sonos, and Crestron).
1MORE E1001 Headphones, $99.99
Steven Stone had a lot of positive things to say about 1MORE’s E1001 earphones, which deliver far more than the $100 price tag would suggest in terms of performance, build quality, and features. Fellow headphone reviewer Brent Butterworth added that the E1001 sets a new standard in $100 headphones. What more can we say?
SVS Prime Elevation Satellite Speaker, $399.98/pair
As Adrienne Maxwell said in her review, the multi-purpose Prime Elevation speaker from SVS can “wear many hats…and wear them well.” It’s primarily designed for use as an on-wall, direct-firing height channel in an Atmos/DTS:X system (the wall mount and necessary hardware are included), but it’s also a really good performer in the standard front, center, and surround roles. It’s a great choice for anyone who wants to build a high-quality, value-oriented speaker system and needs some flexibility in where and how to position the speakers.
Oppo Digital Sonica Wi-Fi Tabletop Speaker, $299
Oppo Digital entered the crowded wireless-speaker category this year with its Sonica Wi-Fi tabletop speaker. All the major connection methods are covered–from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth to AirPlay to USB to the wired auxiliary input. The Sonica app helps you control it all and lets you connect multiple speakers to create a multi-room audio system. Most importantly, this small speaker offers excellent all-around performance.
Visual Apex Fixed Frame Pro Grey 5D Projection Screen, $499 and up
Ambient light rejecting (ALR) projection screens, which are designed for use in high-brightness viewing environments, often can be quite expensive. Visual Apex recently added the Fixed Frame Pro Grey 5D ALR screen to its lineup of value-oriented screen solutions. This 16:9, 1.5-gain screen is available in sizes from 92 to 135 inches, with prices starting at just $499. It offers solid build quality and performance, making it a good choice for the value-conscious shopper who’s assembling a large-screen front projection system for a brighter viewing space.
Onkyo DP-X1 Portable Music Player, $899
Onkyo’s DP-X1 is a full-featured hi-res portable music player that offers good performance, to boot. It supports a wide range of file formats (including DSD and MQA), has expandable memory up to 432 GB, allows for balanced output via a 2.5mm connector, and uses an Android OS–allowing it to function like an Android tablet with access to a ton of music streaming services. Steven Stone considers the DP-X1 to be “the best value in high-resolution portable players.”
Sonus Faber Chameleon B Bookshelf Speaker, $899/pair
Sonus Faber is known for crafting gorgeous speakers that often come with a premium price tag. That’s why Myron Ho was excited to get his hands on the entry-level Chameleon B bookshelf speakers, which cost just $899/pair. This two-way speaker is crafted in Italy and comes with interchangeable, colored side panels. Myron describes the Chameleon B speakers as “superb value-oriented performers–truly musical speakers that have a very rich, sweet sound profile…one that I absolutely loved.”
Questyle QP1R Portable Music Player, $899
Questyle’s QP1R hi-res portable music player isn’t as fully featured as the similarly priced Onkyo player above, but Brian Kahn absolutely loved its performance and build quality, with a machined-aluminum body and Gorilla glass panels. It, too, supports a variety of file formats (including DSD), has expandable memory up to 432 GB, and features a line-level output that can be configured as analog or digital.
ELAC Uni-Fi UF5 Floorstanding Speaker, $998/pair
ELAC’s Uni-Fi line, designed by Andrew Jones, is a step up in price from the company’s Debut Series, but it still represents an excellent value. The floorstanding UF5, priced at $998/pair, is a true three-way speaker using a concentric tweeter/midrange array and dual woofers. Brent Butterworth says, “I’ve heard a huge number of $1,000-per-pair tower speakers … and the UF5 is the best I’ve heard to date. It’s a great value, it’s impeccably engineered, and it simply sounds great.”
Monoprice Monolith 7 Multichannel Amplifier, $1,499
This may raise some audiophile eyebrows, but how could we not include Monoprice’s Monolith 7 amplifier on our Best of 2016 list? This seven-channel Class AB amplifier, which is rated at 200 watts per channel into eight ohms, earned five stars across the board. Dennis Burger said, “It has outright wowed me with its transparency, its neutrality, its transient response, and its HULK SMASH capacity for incredible dynamics”–for the highly reasonable price of $1,499.
Onkyo TX-RZ900 7.2-Channel AV Receiver, $1,599
According to Dennis Burger, this year’s RZ Series represents “a significant step up in terms of performance and quality” compared with past models, and the 7.2-channel TX-RZ900 is also fully loaded in the features department–with support for Atmos/DTS:X, 4K/HDR pass-through, AccuEQ room correction, IP control, AirPlay, Bluetooth, a variety of music streaming services, and more. Dennis calls it “an exceptionally high-performance offering that proves just how much Onkyo has been listening to its fans and critics alike over the past few years.”
Power Sound Audio S3600i Subwoofer, $1,749.99
One of “most muscular subs available today,” the 137-pound S3600i boasts dual 18-inch woofers in a sealed cabinet, driven by a 1,700-watt ICEpower Class D amp. Brent Butterworth describes the S3600i as a “special-purpose product, suitable only for large listening rooms and home theaters where performance is a priority and there’s enough room for a colossal sub.” Oh, and he also ranks it among the best two or three subwoofers he has ever tested.
Red Dragon S500 Stereo Amplifier, $1,999
Red Dragon’s S500 stereo amplifier is proof that good things can come in small packages, says Bob Barrett. The S500 uses a Pascal S-Pro2 Class D amplifier module and is rated at 250 watts per channel into eight ohms in single-ended mode. You can also run it in bridged mode to get 1,000 watts mono. All that power comes in a petite 12-pound box. Bob concludes, “The S500 amp might just rock your world when it comes to the way you think about amplifier design versus performance.”
Control4 EA-5 System Controller, $2,000
Ken Taraszka recently installed a complete whole-house automation and control system built around Control4’s EA-5 system controller. The EA-5 sits atop Control4’s newest line of system controllers, yet it still carries a very reasonable price tag of $2,000. It can serve as the brain of a very complex home automation system, and it also features a built-in music server with hi-res audio support and streaming options like Pandora, TIDAL, TuneIn, and more. Check out Ken’s review to see how the EA-5 and other Control4 products transformed his new home.
Click over to Page Two to see the rest of the our 2016 picks…
Definitive Technology BP9060 Floorstanding Speaker, $2,198/pair
Long-time Definitive Technology fans will be glad to hear that the company has introduced an updated, Atmos-friendly line of bipolar speakers. Brent Butterworth reviewed the BP9060 floorstanding speaker, which combines front and rear driver arrays with an active 10-inch woofer and is designed to pair perfectly with the company’s A90 Atmos module ($499/pair). Brent loved this speaker, calling it “a great-sounding, affordable, versatile speaker that sounds great with everything.”
Spatial M3 Turbo S Floorstanding Speaker, $2,595/pair
The unique M3 Turbo S from Spatial Audio is a two-way, highly efficient floorstanding speaker that combines a coaxial compression driver with twin 15-inch mid-woofers in an open baffle design. Steven Stone loved its performance, stating that it “offers all the advantages of a horn-based design without the problems of placement or excessive sonic personality” and is especially well suited for rooms that present bass challenges.
LG 65EF9500 4K OLED TV, $3,000
We debated whether or not to include this TV on our list. It was Adrienne Maxwell’s favorite TV performer of the year. However, we reviewed this 2015 model early in the year, and it has since been replaced by LG’s 2016 OLED lineup. You can still get the 65EF9500 on Amazon for $3,000 while supplies last. We will add that LG’s 2016 OLED UHD TVs have also earned rave reviews, are brighter, and add support for Dolby Vision; the comparable, non-curved 2016 model would be the OLED65B6P for $3,000.
Samsung UN65KS9800 4K LED/LCD TV, $3,000
The KS9800 Series is Samsung’s flagship SUHD model for 2016. This curved 65-inch TV has a full-array LED backlight with local dimming, a 120Hz refresh rate, Quantum Dot technology for a wider color gamut, and HDR10 support. Overall, the 65-inch UN65KS9800 is a fantastic performer. It doesn’t quite match the LG 65EF9500 OLED in its black-level performance, but it can get a whole lot brighter, offering over 1,000 nits to create eye-catching HDR content. Which model is right for you? That depends on your viewing habits. Adrienne Maxwell says, “You really can’t go wrong either way.”
GoldenEar Triton Two+ Floorstanding Speaker, $3,498/pair
GoldenEar has taken all of the research and development that went in to the flagship Triton One speaker and updated the smaller Triton Two to deliver even better performance. What did Dennis Burger think of the new version: “I simply can’t hide my enthusiasm when a speaker does pretty much exactly what I want it to do … The Triton Two+ delivers incredible depth, palpable detail, exceptional neutrality (especially in the midrange frequencies), and rich, ample, tactile bass that’s as musical as it is muscular. What more could you want?”
Anthem MRX 1120 AV Receiver, $3,499
Looking for an 11-channel AV receiver to make the most of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks? Anthem’s new flagship MRX 1120 is “in a class of its own right now.” Its performance is stellar (with both stereo and multichannel audio), and it boasts a lot more features than previous MRX offerings, including support for 4K/HDR video pass-through, DTS Play-Fi, and Spotify Connect. Of course, you also get the excellent Anthem Room Correction tool. If your amplification needs are already covered, consider the $2,999 AVM 60 AV preamp instead: Our full review is coming in a few weeks, but suffice to say, its performance is just as good.
Aurum Cantus V7F Floorstanding Speaker, $3,500/pair
Aurum Cantus is a highly respected OEM of ribbon, AMT, and cone drivers for speaker manufacturers like Lawrence Audio, but the company also makes its own speakers. Now that Aurum Cantus has a U.S. distributor (Audiophile Direct), Terry London decided to check out the three-way V7F floorstanding speaker and was absolutely blown away by its performance. As an added perk, he calls the V7F “one of the most beautiful speakers he has reviewed in a long time.”
Epson Pro Cinema 6040UB LCD Projector, $3,999
Epson has thrown down the gauntlet with the new Pro Cinema 6040UB LCD projector and its lower priced sibling, the Home Cinema 5040UB. Technically these are 1080p projectors, but they use Epson’s pixel-shifting technology to simulate a 4K image. As Adrienne Maxwell puts it, “To combine such a high level of performance (excellent detail, high brightness, a deep black level, and rich color) with such a comprehensive list of features (4K signal input, HDR and DCI-P3 color support, lens memory, a manual lens iris, and motorized zoom/focus) at these price points makes the new models awfully tough to beat.”
Focal Utopia Over-the-Ear Headphones, $3,999
Yes, Focal’s Utopia headphones cost more than many of the freestanding speakers on our list, but Scott Schumer says the investment is worth it. The use of pure Beryllium drivers and other proprietary technological advancements provides sonic improvements that are easy to hear, and the Utopia headphones are very comfortable and well constructed. Quite simply, Scott calls them “the best headphones I have ever heard.”
Lyngdorf TDAI 2170 Integrated Amplifier, $3,999-$4,999
Lyngdorf’s 170-watt-per-channel TDAI 2170 integrated amp boasts several interesting technologies that distinguish its performance from the pack. It possesses sophisticated digital amplifier technology that eliminates many of the conversions that an analog integrated amp would perform. It also features Lyngdorf’s Room Perfect technology, an effective signal correction system that can minimize the need for acoustic treatments and adjust for against-the-wall speaker placement. The TDAI 2170 has a modular design, so it can be configured in a variety of ways, with the base package starting at $3,999. Greg Handy calls it “a wonderful modern solution for a world-class two-channel audio system.”
Paradigm Prestige 2000SW Subwoofer, $3,999
If you want a subwoofer that looks as good as it sounds, consider Paradigm’s Prestige 2000SW. This 121-pound sub sports a 15-inch woofer and 2,000-watt Class D amplifier in a gorgeous cabinet that’s available in a furniture-grade finish of piano black, gloss cherry, satin walnut, or satin black walnut. One of Brent Butterworth’s favorite parts of this package is the included Perfect Bass Kit, which he considers to be one of the best subwoofer auto EQ systems available.
Classe Sigma SSP AV Preamp, $5,000
With the 7.1-channel Sigma SSP AV preamp, “Classe has both raised the bar and lowered the cost of entry for high-end audiophile performance from your system’s AV preamp,” says Jerry Del Colliano. It may not offer all the features you’ll find in lower-priced AV preamps, but it delivers exceptional performance, rivaling or besting that of preamps that cost much more.
Pass Labs XA30.8 Stereo Amplifier, $6,800
The 30-watt, solid-state XA30.8 is currently the only pure Class A stereo amplifier that Pass Labs makes. According to Ben Shyman, the XA30.8 “presents music with a tube-like fluidity and tonality that is uncommon with solid-state circuitry,” yet it also provides a remarkable degree of control over his speakers and is “dead-quiet.” Of course, the XA30.8 also offers the beautiful aesthetic and exceptional build quality that we expect from Pass Labs. If you’re one to embrace Class A amps, then you should wholeheartedly embrace the XA30.8.
JVC DLA-X750R D-ILA Projector, $6,999.95
Like the Epson 6040UB listed above, the DLA-X750R is technically a 1080p projector that use pixel-shifting technology to simulate a 4K image, and it supports HDR and DCI-P3 color. Unlike the Epson, the JVC can deliver HDR video and P3 color at the same time, which should justify the step up in price for the videophile who wants all the best goodies that Ultra HD Blu-ray has to offer. Plus, JVC projectors still deliver the best black level in the business, and this THX-certified projector offers a very clean, accurate, beautiful picture.
Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL2.0 Stereo Preamp ($1,695) and ZOTL40 Stereo Amplifier ($5,800)
Both of these tube-based products from Linear Tube Audio are built around a transformer-less architecture called ZOTL. Terry London loved the performance of the MicroZOTL2.0 stereo preamp when he reviewed it on its own back in May. When he recently reviewed the ZOTL40 MkII amp, he commented, “The synergy of the MicroZOTL preamplifier with the ZOTL40 MK.II brought a beauty to my reference system that I have never heard with any other preamp/amp combo.”
Cary Audio DMC-600SE Digital Music Center, $7,995
Cary Audio’s DMC-600SE combines a high-end CD transport and DAC. It has a variety of digital connection options (including asynchronous USB, digital audio, AES/EBU, and Bluetooth), it supports PCM formats up to 32/384 and DSD up to 256X via USB, it offers both balanced and unbalanced output, and it allows you to switch between solid-state and tube output stages. Although $7,995 is a high price of entry, Steven Stone concludes, “The Cary DMC-600SE still delivers a whole lot of value and flexibility to go along with its impeccable sonic performance.”
B&W 804 D3 Floorstanding Speaker, $9,000/pair
Brent Butterworth approves of the changes that B&W has made to the latest iteration of the flagship Diamond Series speakers–including the decision to move away from the famous Kevlar cone material and embrace a synthetic fabric called Continuum. The 804 D3 shares the same driver array as previous Diamond 804 versions (two 6.5-inch woofers, a five-inch midrange, and a one-inch tweeter) but otherwise shares no parts with its predecessors. As expected, the fit, finish, and build quality are exceptional. When explaining why the 804 D3 belongs on this year’s list, Brent simply answered, “I love the sound, and it’s gorgeous.”
Focal Sopra N°2 Floorstanding Speaker, $13,995/pair
The Sopra N°2 delivers all of the performance we’ve come to expect from high-end Focal speakers in a truly eye-catching form factor, offered in a variety of vibrant colors. Jerry Del Colliano loved the way these speakers perform and ultimately concluded that “you might not find a better balance between the worlds of performance, design, and value.” If you don’t have the space and/or budget for the floorstanders, the Sopra N°1 bookshelf model also earned a rave review from Ben Shyman earlier this year.
• Check out Home Theater Review’s Best of 2015 Awards to see which products made last year’s list.
• Read more speaker reviews on our Floorstanding Speakers and Bookshelf Speakers category pages.
• Read more AV electronics reviews on our AV Receivers and AV Preamps cateogry pages.